Ibérico Ham School – Day 2
We returned to La Posada the following morning for an enormous breakfast, full of Lucy’s homemade Andalucían delights, before setting off with Angel to an organic pig farm nearby. The farm is set in a huge oak forest (known as a “dehesa”) and has goats, ducks, geese and chickens as well as over one hundred black Iberian pigs.
When we arrived at the farm, Arūnas and I again scoured the woodlands for the first glimpse, our competition from the previous day still running. Still, there were none to be seen. “Whoop-ahhhh”, cried Armando, who runs the farm with his wife, Lola. Suddenly, pigs came running from every direction! Finally, I could see these beautiful animals up close. While the pigs are armed with huge teeth and a strong bite, they are very docile, happy to nuzzle around your feet. They are also extremely clever. As if to demonstrate, one pig used its snout to lift the latch on the gate, allowing itself and a few others to escape and sending Armando and Lola (and their two dogs) running to recapture them.
Walking us round his homestead, Armando showed us pigs at various stages of development, from tiny piglets to those who were at the acorn-eating stage of their fifteen-month lives. He also explained the importance of the acorns to the pigs’ development. The dehesa has two types of oak tree – holm oak and cork oak. The acorns of each tree provide different nutrients to the pigs, ensuring a balanced development. This is a precious and fragile ecosystem that cannot easily be replicated. Most of the oak trees on the farm are over one hundred years old and some were as much as seven hundred years old. Acorns were just beginning to appear on the trees – they would be ready to eat in the autumn. Armando explained how tiny growths on the back of the leaves, which contain insect larvae, helped to keep other animals, such as birds and squirrels, from eating the precious acorns. In addition to providing acorns, the cork oak had another use – the cork bark can be stripped from the trees once every nine years, providing supplementary income for the farm.
Armando brought us to the bodega where the hams are aged. The aroma as we entered the ageing room was truly magnificent. Armando selected a large leg that was fully aged and ready for sale and took it down off its hook to “dress” it – that is, to apply the labels indicating source and quality. As their Jamón is organic, acorn-fed and aged for three years, it is right at the top of the quality ladder.
The tour concluded with a further carving lesson, this time with Armando at the helm. We had definitely improved but won’t be employed at any tapas bars just yet. With appetites well and truly whetted, we sat down to a gourmet five-course lunch, freshly prepared by Lola. We started with a tasting platter of meats from the farm including jamón, chorizo and salchichón (the Spanish equivalent of salami), followed by a hearty vegetable broth, fillet of Ibérico pork grilled over a wood fire and served with fragrant potatoes and salad, a selection of organic goat’s cheeses, a simple, Andalucían-style custard made with sweetened goat’s milk and, finally, the most welcome espresso I’ve ever consumed. I was beginning to understand the Spanish concept of “Siesta” – I could happily have had a nap in the cool refuge of the dining room.
I came away from the two-day “Jamón school” with more knowledge of Iberian pigs than I could have hoped for, as well as a wonderful gastronomically experience. I would highly recommend the tour to anyone interested in Jamón Ibérico, organic farming, sustainable living or simply in wonderful food.
NB: This post is not sponsored in any way. We paid for all aspects of the tour. We simply had a marvellous experience.